TRANSPORT Minister Noel Dempsey must step in to stop the "death warrant" for the Shannon/Heathrow service being signed by Aer Lingus, Fine Gael said yesterday.
The call came as anger grew, with Aer Lingus being accused of turning its back on Shannon and of reneging on a commitment it only recently gave to unions in relation to maintaining its schedule at the airport.
The airline's chief executive, Dermot Mannion, is expected to travel to the airport today to inform staff of the move.
Withdrawing the Shannon-Heathrow route in favour of Belfast could result in up to 50 job losses.
Mr Mannion is also due to travel to Stormont today where a major expansion of the airline's services from the city will be trumpeted.
But furious SIPTU spokesman Tony Carroll said: "During our discussions with Aer Lingus over the past nine months, Dermot Mannion said that any new expansion by the airline would not be at the expense of any existing station.
"This decision about the Heathrow route however flies in the face of what the company has been saying."
Local Fine Gael TD Pat Breen called on the Minister to intervene to stop the "death warrant" being signed for the regular Shannon-Heathrow service.
"As a shareholder in the company, the Minister must make it clear to Aer Lingus that retention of the existing slots to and from Shannon are critical to providing connectivity to this region," he insisted.
He said the Taoiseach and Government should urge British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to make extra Heathrow slots separately available for Belfast "as an acknowledgement of the dividend of the peace process in Northern Ireland".
The transfer of such strategically important slots from Shannon had to be prevented, he said, suggesting as another alternative that the Minister and Aer Lingus "reduce one or two slots in other Irish Airports rather than cutting off the the entire West of Ireland."
Speaking about the threat, SIPTU rep Mr Carroll added: "I don't want to pre-empt what Aer Lingus will announce, but it is difficult to believe that there will be no consequences for jobs at Shannon if four [daily] flights are going to be dropped."
Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Tony Killeen, said: "Nobody believes that Aer Lingus will have the same high load factor out of Belfast as it had at Shannon, given that it will be competing with at least two other major airlines on that route. This is something Aer Lingus will have to explain."
Meanwhile, Mayor of Shannon Councillor Séan McLoughlin has also called on the Minister for Transport to stop the transfer.
In April 2005, Councillor McLoughlin asked Shannon Town Council to write to the then Minister for Transport, Martin Cullen, to ask the Government to ring-fence the present slots at Heathrow used at Shannon.
"That proposal fell on deaf ears and now my worst fears are coming true," he said yesterday.
"I now want the Minister for Transport to meet a delegation from the County Council and the four Towns Councils in Clare, Limerick County and City Councils and all the TDs in both counties."